Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | August 3, 2008

Lord’s Day Quote: Louis Berkhof

The Principium Cognoscendi Externum is God’s special revelation.  The knowledge which God desires that we should have of Him is conveyed to us by means of the revelation that is now embraced in Scripture.  Originally God revealed Himself in creation, but through the blight of sin that original revelation was obscured.  Moreover, it was entirely insufficient in the condition of things that obtained after the fall.  Only God’s self-revelation in the Bible can now be considered adequate.  It only conveys a knowledge of God that is pure, that is, free from error and superstition, and that answers to the spiritual needs of fallen man.  Because it has pleased God to embody His special revelation in Scripture for the time being, this, in the words of Bavinck, has the character of a “causa efficiens intrumentalis of theology.”  It is now the prinicipum unicum, from which the theologian must derive his theological knowledge.  Some are inclined to speak of God’s general revelation as a second source; but this is hardly correct in view of the fact that nature can come into consideration here only as interpreted in the light Scripture.  Kuyper warns against speaking of Scripture, or God’s special revelation, as the fons theologiae, since the word fons has rather definite meaning in scientific study.  It denotes in general a certain object of study which is in itself passive, but which embodies  certain ideas, and from which man must, by means of scientific study, extract or elicit knowledge.  The use of that word in this connection is apt to give the impression that man must place himself above Scripture, in order to discover or elicit from these the knowledge of God, while as a matter of fact this is not the case.  God does not leave it to man to discover the knowledge of Him and of divine things, but actively and explicitly conveys this to man by means of His self-revelation.  This same idea was later on also stressed by Schaeder and Barth, namely, that in the study of theology God is never the object of some human subject, but is always Himself the subject.  We should bear in mind that the word ‘ principium,’ as we use it in theology, has a casual signification, just as the corresponding Hebrew and Greek words do in the Bible, when it speaks of the fear of the Lord as the principle (reshith) of wisdom (Ps. 111:10) or knowledge (Prov 1:7), and of Christ as the principle (arche) of creation and of the resurrection (Col 1:18; Rev 3:14).  By means of His self-revelation God communicates the requisite knowledge of Himself and of divine things to man.  Man can know God only because and in so far as God actively reveals Himself.  And if we do speak of Scripture as the fountain-head of theology, we shall have to remember that it is a living fountain from which God causes the streams of knowledge to flow, and that we have but to appropriate these.  The same point should be borne in mind, when we follow the common custom in speaking of God’s special revelation as the source of theology.  Man cannot place himself above his object in theology; he cannot investigate God.


Louis Berkhof, The Idea and History of Dogmatic Theology   


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